Print services recommendations?

Subject: Print services recommendations?
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 23 Oct 2000 16:12:21 -0400

Lyda Woods would like to understand better the differences and similarities

<<...b/w and color docutech vs. offset vs. photocopy>>

Docutech is basically a high-end photocopier with a computer interface;
think of it as a really fast laser printer with the ability to bind its
output and you'll get the basic notion. Photocopying is basically low-end
laser printer: the initial quality is adequate, but as the paper passes
repeatedly through the scanner, it gradually wears out and the quality of
the copies degrades. Offset printing uses a photographic image of the
document, created either by a film camera or by direct output on film using
a Linotronic or similar typesetting machine. (The quality is generally far
superior to laser printing, since the resolution _starts_ at 1200 dpi, the
current upper limit for lasers, and can go much higher. Plus, film is more
stable than paper for these purposes--it doesn't distort as much in
responses to changes in humidity or physical stress--plus the dots are
positioned more consistently and accurately with a typesetter than with a
laser printer, and positioning doesn't depend on paper quality since you're
not using paper.) The film is then used to "burn" a plastic, paper, or metal
printing plate that will maintain its quality for hundreds (paper) or
thousands (metal) of copies.

Price depends on how many copies you're producing and how you provide the
materials to the printer, but photocopies are usually the least expensive
(or tied with Docutech) and greatest with offset printing, though offset
printing becomes substantially cheaper for large print runs. (I'm not
distinguishing between sheet-fed and Web presses here.) In terms of quality,
offset is the way to go, but you pay a premium for that quality until you
have large print runs (usually a minimum of 500, but sometimes 1000+). Good
Docutech output is quite acceptable for most purposes, and particularly for
B&W prints. Docutech gives reasonable color, but not nearly as good (or as
predictable if you need exact color matches) as offset-printed color. You
need to decide on your quality objectives before picking one method over

<<binding vs. binders (or why is binding more expensive than binders!?)>>

Punching holes and inserting something into a binder is relatively cheap
(though good binders can be quite expensive) because it's easier to automate
(no need to account for binding creep, for instance). Binding is more
complicated mechanically, but lasts longer (if well done) and may be more
usable (especially lay-flat bindings).

<<how do experienced writers distinguish good printers from not so good

The same way inexperienced writers do: find a printer via word of mouth (or
cold-call some folks and ask them for client referrals), ask them for
samples, and talk to them until you both understand exactly what it is you
want to produce. Include quality criteria as part of the printing contract,
and make them live up to those criteria.

<<is it best to use a local printer?>>

Depends. I've had good success printing stuff locally, as well as over
distances of 500 and 1000 km from the printer. Local printers offer one
unbeatable advantage over the more remote guys: you can pop in the car and
pay them a visit to discuss details, to deliver corrections, and to do "on
the press" approvals. But a really good printer working at a distance can
certainly be a satisfactory solution.

--Geoff Hart, FERIC, Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca

"Hart's law of gravitation: Deadlines are the documentation equivalent of
black holes: the closer the deadline approaches, the harder it becomes to
escape its pull, and the faster events accelerate in their rush towards the
deadline; at the technical communication equivalent of an "event horizon",
nothing escapes that pull. And the closer you approach a deadline, the
faster things are moving and the less time everyone has to react
appropriately."--Geoff Hart

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